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City Limits/Jeanmarie Evelly

An AARP volunteer holds a sign outside the 23rd Street Subway station.

Seniors, transit activists and AARP members gathered outside the Penn South apartment cooperative on Thursday to call for better accessibility in the subway system. The property, on 8th Avenue and 25th Street, is home to a number of older and retired residents, and while there’s a subway station on the corner, many of them can’t use it since it lacks an elevator.

“I have not been able to use the subway since 2008, when I broke my hip, and I find the stairs impossible,” said Harriet Kriegel, who lives at Penn South. “I will tell you, as grubby as the subway was, I missed it terribly.”

Only about a quarter of the city’s subway stations have elevators, making the rest of the network inaccessible to those who can’t traverse stairs. The number of residents cut off from the system due to its lack of elevators will only grow as more of the population ages: In the next two decades, New Yorkers 65 and older will account for 18 percent of the city, according to the AARP.

The group is calling for state lawmakers to fund the MTA’s “Fast Forward” plan, which would install elevators at 50 new stations in the next five years, and another 130 additional stations over the next decade.

Watch the whole event below.

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Adi Talwar

As development has rushed north along Webster Avenue in the Bronx, what used to be a lonely stretch of road bracketed by train tracks and a cemetery is now usually chock full of cars.

After floundering for more than a decade, it seems 2019 may finally be the year New York approves a congestion pricing plan. Not only is the governor behind it, but a growing number of state lawmakers say they support charging drivers a fee to enter Manhattan’s business district, spurred by worsening gridlock on city streets and a cash-strapped public transit system in crisis.

But one element in the great traffic debate has gotten less attention: parking policy. If it makes sense to charge cars to drive on the city’s busiest streets, thereby discouraging auto use and speeding up traffic, wouldn’t it make sense to do something similar for parking? Many transit experts say yes, arguing that New York’s parking spaces are grossly underpriced in a city so pressed for space.

While about 85,000 of the city’s parking spots in commercial areas require drivers to feed the meter, a much larger number—about 97 percent of the city’s on-street parking spaces, experts say —are free, a fact that Jemilah Magnusson, communications director at the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, calls “fairly ridiculous” considering the cost of land and availability of other transit options in New York.

“You are causing more congestion, you are adding to the emissions, you’re taking up valuable space in a city that doesn’t have a lot of space, and that needs to be priced,” she says.

A growing problem?

Whatever monetary savings drivers get from free street parking, they pay for it with their time: A 2017 study found that New York’s drivers spend 107 hours a year searching for a spot, the most of the 10 cities it analyzed. Parking problems were also identified as a quality-of-life issue by two dozen of the city’s Community Boards in their annual budget requests for the last fiscal year, with a number of boards seeking funds for new parking facilities—including nine requests for more NYPD precinct parking, and another from Manhattan’s CB4 for a garage to house charter and tour buses.

“This community has households with up to 3 or 4 cars and we are in desperate need of parking,” reads one request from Brooklyn’s CB15, which includes Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach.

Several boards sought funds to hire more traffic enforcement officers to crackdown on illegal parking in their districts; others asked the city to install more parking meters. Some requested parking studies be done of problem areas, and Brooklyn’s CD18 asked for “large tire booting devices” so its local police could “combat the illegal parking of large 18-wheeler trucks and car carriers in our neighborhoods.”

Parking policies can have other consequences, too—in most of the city, zoning rules require new development to be built with a certain amount of off-street parking, which advocates say drives up the cost of housing. Curb space set aside for free parking could alternatively be used for things like bike lanes, bus stops or loading zones for deliveries.

“Parking comes at the expense of things that everyone else needs,” says Magnusson. “We should be striving for a city where nobody needs to have a private car, and you can get anywhere you need to go without having the annoyance and expense and all the other things that come with owning a car.”

Free or cheap parking is also a perk that benefits a relative minority of New Yorkers: Fewer than half, or 45 percent, of city households own a car, according to the Economic Development Corporation, and only 27 percent New Yorkers actually use their cars to get to work, the same report found. Even those who do drive aren’t necessarily being well-served by the city’s current policies, according to transit experts, who point to research that indicates underpriced parking actually encourages more driving and makes congestion worse.

“That’s economics 101: the cheaper something is, the more people jump in on it,” says Rachel Weinberger, a transportation expert with the consulting firm Weinberger & Associates. “The more infrastructure you add, the more you are enabling that mode of transportation.”

‘Parking Exceptionalism’

The heightened push for congestion pricing has been driven, in part, by growing frustration over the state of New York’s crowded streets: while the actual number of cars entering Manhattan’s Central Business District each day dropped in 2016, travel speeds in the district have been slowing consistently since 2012, according to a mobility report released in June by the Department of Transportation. As the city’s population has grown, so has car ownership, with the number of household vehicle registrations up more than 8 percent since 2010, the same report found.

New York is also doing more business now than in previous years, with 620,000 jobs added since 2010, according to the DOT’s report. That increased economic activity has put more pressure on the curb, exacerbated by the growing popularity of online shopping, which translates to more deliveries being made, says Kathryn Wylde, head of the business advocacy group Partnership for New York City.

“The increase in freight activity alone is huge, and available curb space has not grown proportionality,” she says, noting that many commercial parking garages have been redeveloped into housing in recent years. “You have a situation that is contributing to driving up costs for consumers and businesses in the city, resulting in loss of productivity due to delays, and contributing terribly to congestion.”

To address this, Wylde would like to see the city reform its much-criticized parking placard system, as well as raise the cost of metered parking to encourage more turnover at the curb, opening up more spaces. Though DOT hiked its meter rates in August, many advocates feel the cost is still too low: An hour of parking in Midtown Manhattan starts at $4.50, while metered spots start at just $1.25 in other parts of the city.

“The basic problem in New York City is that parking is underpriced,” says Ben Fried, communications director with TransitCenter. “If you want to have parking be convenient, then parking is also probably going to be more expensive.”

In a statement, the DOT pointed to August’s meter rate increases as the latest in its “ongoing efforts” to find the right price for parking. “We continue to examine neighborhood parking and look to engage with communities to improve the functionality of their metered parking areas,” a spokesman for the agency said.

Cheap or free parking spots tend to attract drivers who park and stay put, leaving few or no open spaces in a given area. This leads to more people driving around, circling the neighborhood for an available spot—a behavior referred to as “cruising” that worsens congestion, according to research by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which found that as much as 45 percent of traffic on some city streets is caused by drivers in search of a spot.

Raising the cost of parking spaces to be more in line with the demand of the area they’re located in could help, experts say. Similar to congestion pricing, charging more to park would encourage those who don’t want to pay the pricier fee to take transit instead, or to park further away in a different area where the demand for parking is lower and therefore, cheaper.

Of course, raising fees for any civic commodity creates questions of economic equity. While only about 22 percent of New York City residents who work drove to their jobs in 2017, more than a third of those drivers earned less than $35,000 a year, according to Census data.

The city has experimented with the idea of adjusting meter prices to better reflect demand: An initiative called PARK Smart was tested in several neighborhoods, which charged more for metered parking during the busiest times of day. Though the initiative was discontinued in some neighborhoods—including the Upper East Side, where the community board opposed it, according to reporting from Streetsblog—it’s still in place in Jackson Heights. There, DOT says it saw an estimated 12 percent increase in drivers finding spots within the PARK Smart area, and that the changes encouraged more drivers to park for shorter periods in most spots, “allowing more shoppers and visitors to park,” according to an evaluation of the program’s first year.

Donald Shoup, a parking policy expert and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking and Parking and the City, says the idea of charging more for parking is often met by pushback from the public.

“People think that parking is different from the rest of the economy and should be exempt” from market-based pricing, he says. He called this thinking “parking exceptionalism”—the belief that parking should be free, since it more or less always has been.

“Free on-street parking was the status quo, or has been the status quo, ever since the car was invented,” he says. “Insurance is not free. Tires aren’t free. The only thing that’s free is the parking, and parking is part of the problem.”

A potential solution, according to Fried, is for the city to prioritize curbside space for the most efficient modes of transit—for bus stops, delivery loading zones and even taxi pickup areas—giving less priority to individuals in cars. TransitCenter points to the city’s move last summer to convert nearly 300 public parking spots across the boroughs into designated parking for car-share services, as something the group would like to see more of.

“You don’t really want to think of parking in terms of, ‘How can we satisfy everyone who is looking for a parking space?’ Once you start thinking that way, you start making decisions that actually skew the system in a way that creates more traffic,” Fried says. “You really want to be thinking about it in terms of: ‘How do we efficiently allocate this public space?'”

Another potential starting point, he says, would be for the city start installing meters and charging for parking in in-demand areas where it’s currently free, beginning with the streets on the periphery of the zones that are already metered.

Neighborhood permits and complication

For residential neighborhoods, some have proposed a parking permit system, which would charge residents within a given area for a pass allowing them to park in a set number of resident-only spaces. At least two bills have been introduced in the City Council to do just that, including one sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine that would set up a permit system in northern Manhattan—spurred, he said, by concern that the imminent passage of congestion pricing will result in a deluge of drivers from other places parking their cars north of 60th Street to avoid paying the congestion fee.

At a Council hearing on the bill in June Margaret Forgione, the DOT’s chief operations officer, said such a system would likely require approval from the state legislature, and said she worried such a plan would “pose a significant question of equity.”

“They favor local residents’ ability to store their cars in the program area, often one with good access to transit, while restricting the ability of others to park in the area,” she said, according to a transcript of the hearing. “These others can include those who may lack access to good transit and maybe more car dependent, and are driving to the area in order to then access transit or nearby jobs, schools or services.”

Weinberger agrees that a neighborhood-based permit system can cause issues, including for businesses that rely on customers from other parts of the city being able to park in the area, so thinks a more flexible, less geographically-dependent permit system is preferable. She also stresses that what works in one neighborhood may not in another, so parking prices should be sensitive to the ease and availability of other transit options in a given area, pointing to certain parts of the city, like eastern Queens, where it’s harder to get around without a car.

“An area like Times Square, that’s very easy to get to by transit and very crowded, should have much higher meter prices than, say, the Upper East Side,” she says.

Equity has been similarly raised as an argument against congestion pricing, with critics who say it would price out poor and middle-class New Yorkers from being able to drive into Manhattan. Pricier parking fees could raise those same fears, though demographics indicate that New York’s car-owning households tend to be of higher income than those without vehicles. Transit advocates also make the argument that free on-street parking spaces essentially amount to subsidized car storage the city pays to maintain, even if a majority of residents don’t drive.

“Everybody is paying it, regardless of whether or not you have access to a parking space,” Magnusson says.

Shoup has advocated for the use of Parking Benefit Districts, in which residents within a neighborhood can bid on a set number of parking permits based on how many available curbside spaces that district has. They’re priced based on market demand, determined by auctioning the permits off and doling them out to the highest bidders, but with each winning bidder paying the same price—whatever the lowest bid was.

The revenue from sale of the permits would then go to improvements within the district, like free WiFi or street cleaning, based on what residents would like to see. Such a system helps mitigate the community backlash that often comes with parking price changes, Shoup says, because residents can physically see the benefits the permits bring to the neighborhood. Without that, people don’t “have any real incentive to say yes.”

“If the city proposed putting parking meters in everywhere and raising the price, drivers would go crazy,” he says.

A hard sell

Charging people more for something that has otherwise always been cheap, or even free, can be a difficult sell. Vicki Been, law professor and faculty director at NYU’s Furman Center and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, says parking is a “really hot button issue” for New Yorkers, many of whom feel pinched financially on a number of other fronts associated with city living.

“What I heard a lot was, ‘It’s getting so hard for the middle class to live in the city and this is just one more thing now you’re going to make us pay for,'” she says. “I think parking is sometimes a stand-in for a set of other issues: people’s perception that property taxes are high, and income taxes are high… I think it’s a little bit of a catch-all category, and it’s kind of the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

During her time at HPD, Been helped shepherd the passage of the city’s affordable housing plan, which included changes to longtime parking regulations that required developers provide a set amount of off-street parking spaces with most new projects—a provision researchers say makes housing more expensive and difficult to build.

“So often the parking spaces were just sitting empty, so it was a terrible waste of money and space,” says Been. The city’s zoning changes eliminated those requirements, called parking minimums, for affordable and senior housing projects in a number of areas the city deems well-served by transit, though the minimums are still in place elsewhere. Been thinks the city should now be “taking a hard look” at where else it could potentially remove or reduce those parking minimums, including when developers apply for zoning changes as part of a project, what planners refer to as spot zonings.

Other cities, like Mexico City and San Francisco, are eliminating parking minimums altogether. Not only do minimums make housing more costly, critics argue, they also incentivize driving and car ownership by making it easier for people to own and park a car. But Been thinks it would be a tall order to get rid of parking minimums completely in New York, considering the current state of the city’s subways and buses, as poor transit service often pushes people into cars.

“Given the difficulty with subway service these days, that would be a very hard sell,” she says. “I don’t think we can take on people’s cars and really hit hard on parking until we do better on transit.”

Magnusson, though, is a bit more optimistic, saying more cities are rethinking their parking policies and making bold changes in the face of climate change and growing congestion, despite the public pushback that can sometimes come with it.

“This is a regulation change that is beneficial in so many ways that cities are taking that risk,” she says.

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John McCarten/NYC Council

Ydanis Rodriguez seen during a Riders Respond listening tour last year.

When the seven “leading contenders” in the February 26 special election for the office of public advocate took the stage at the second and final televised debate on Wednesday night, Ydanis Rodriguez was not among them. The northern Manhattan Councilmember was one of three elected officials in the race who was not invited to the debate, along with Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and Councilmember Eric Ulrich, because they did not meet a requirement for campaign spending.

Rodriguez told the WBAI Max & Murphy Show that he remains confident in his campaign, which is emphasizing immigrant rights—including a right to vote in local elections.

“We’re talking about restoring rights, not giving rights for the first time,” he said, explaining that immigrants lost that right “like a 100 years ago when we made it a requirement to be a citizen to be able to elect local leaders.” He added: “As we fight Donald Trump and want to be a city that shows an example that there should be no taxation without representation, people who are green card holders, people with working permits are the ones who pay taxes,” and deserve to vote in local races.

Rodriguez also highlighted his sponsorship of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, a local law that would impose regulations on commercial rents and has been kicking around the Council since the Koch administration.

He also talked about lessons learned through his role in the rezoning of Inwood last year. “No rezoning is perfect in New York City. When we look at this process, it’s challenging and it is hard work we need to do,” he said, noting the lack of new affordable housing in the district in years preceding the rezoning, and the cultural amenities he was able to secure in the deal. “I also included in this rezoning a new pilot project that when a developer builds commercial space with public dollars, a percentage of space will be affordable to local small business.”

“I have seen people being pushed out and priced out, So I believe it’s my responsibility to listen to the people, but no rezoning is perfect.”

Listen below to the interview with Rodriguez or to the full show, which includes a conversation with another Councilmember running for public advocate, Jumaane Williams.

(And check out our Special Election Voters’ Guide to hear more interviews and see all the information you need on everyone who’s running.)

Public Advocate candidate Ydanis Rodriguez

Max & Murphy: Ydanis Rodriguez, candidate for public advocate - SoundCloud
(1133 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

Max & Murphy: Full Show of February 20, 2019

Max & Murphy: Amazon and the Race for Public Advocate - SoundCloud
(3354 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

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Emil Cohen/NYC Council

Jumaane Williams is in his third term representing the 45th district in Brooklyn.

Jumaane Williams is running in his fifth election in 18 months. He cruised to victory in a primary and a general election for his Council seat in the fall of 2017, ran unsuccessfully for Council speaker the following winter and mounted an aggressive primary campaign for lieutenant governor in 2018. Now he’s one of 16 people on the ballot in next Tuesday’s special election for public advocate.

Williams’ name recognition likely makes him one of the putative frontrunners in the crowded field. His spending on the race, which at last count was the highest in the race by a comfortable margin, probably helps, too. His self-imposed label of “activist-elected official” seems well suited to the post of public advocate.

But like the other legislators in the special election (three other Councilmembers and three Assemblymembers), Williams has had to articulate how he would manage a citywide office with potentially sweeping focused but fairly limited resources. On Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI, Williams talked about his planned approach.

I think the administration – this one especially but I think administrations in general – make decisions high up in the tower and then try to do them to the community. The public advocate’s office should be set up so there can be a conversation with the community. The way we want to set up—the office the way I previously discussed—is, whether it’s housing policy, or rezoning, or Rikers, there should be some kind of communications pipeline from the community to the public advocate’s office, then to government, so the community has a real say in these things because right now New Yorkers don’t think they get to have a say. … These things are done to them and the public advocate’s office has to be a balance in that way.

Williams also made reference to being a “charter cop.” Asked to elaborate on whether he knew of city agencies that were not meeting their Charter responsibilities, he mentioned the NYPD “where there’s been a resistance to anything that has to do with how police officers are disciplined,” the Administration for Children’s Services (where “there have been lots of stories of women of color in particular who have been losing their babies to poverty, not to neglect), the Department of Education “that is making decisions where we haven’t been able to figure out what they’re based on – whether it’s the size of their budget, whether it’s the money going to charter schools.” and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “It just came out they’re not enforcing where we finding bad landlords doing things they shouldn’t.”

Asked about the Amazon pullout, Williams said he would have tried as public advocate to bridge the gap between opponents and proponents of the deal.

“If you’re asking, [are] there people who went extreme, the answer is yes. If I were public advocate, I would have met with Amazon. I’m always into engaging people. But I also want to point out what was presented. … When it was presented, the deal was just that bad. And when people started to point that out, it wasn’t like [Mayor] de Blasio and Governor [Cuomo] said, ‘OK, let’s talk.’ They basically poo-poo-ed the people who were bringing this up,” Williams said. “So the only way [the opponents] could have pushed was to push hard because no one was listening. And unfortunately, we didn’t have people who wanted to listen. So someone like me who wanted to engage, wasn’t engaged either. … I think the blame for all this is on Jeff Bezos, Cuomo and deBlasio. How they started to have the conversation to begin with and when people pushed back, they didn’t take a leadership moment and figure out how to engage. Instead, they immediately tried to demonize the folks who had real concerns.”

Listen to the conversation with the Brooklyn Councilmember below, or hear the full show, which includes an interview with a second public advocate candidate, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez.

(And check out our Special Election Voters’ Guide to hear more interviews and see all the information you need on everyone who’s running.)

Public Advocate candidate Jumaane Williams

Max & Murphy: Jumaane Williams, candidate for public advocate - SoundCloud
(930 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

Max & Murphy: Full Show of February 20, 2019

Max & Murphy: Amazon and the Race for Public Advocate - SoundCloud
(3354 secs long)Play in SoundCloud

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NYC ORR

Flooding in Lower Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy.

With sea levels around New York City expected to rise as much as six feet over the next nine decades, federal planners are considering what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: a $120 billion network of defensive measures including seven miles of tidal gates and 26 miles of shoreline structures like floodwalls.

And that’s just the most extensive—and expensive—of five alternatives examined in an interim report released this week by the Army Corps of Engineers.

In its long-awaited “New York-New Jersey Harbor and Tributaries Coastal Storm Risk Management Interim Report,” the Corps does not recommend a course of action. That recommendation will come sometime before the agency’s initial environmental impact statement for its New York resiliency project is released for public review in March of 2020.

The Corps says this week’s interim study exists merely to ” identify factors that warrant further investigation.” To that end, eight public meetings are planned so the agency can hear public opinion on their analysis. Details on the first four sessions are as follows:

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, 5-7 p.m. at the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Avenue, White Plains, N.Y.


Wednesday, April 3rd, 5-7 p.m. at the Hudson Valley Community Center, 110 Grand Avenue, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


Thursday, April 11th, 5-7 p.m. at the Meadowlands Environment Center’s first-floor auditorium, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, N.J.


Wednesday, April 17th, 5-7 p.m. at the Hostos Community College, D Building/Savoy Manor Building, 120 East 149th St, 2nd Floor, Bronx, N.Y.

The Corps says four additional public meetings will be announced soon. Each session will include a 30-minute period for reviewing explanatory displays, a 30-minute staff presentation and a 60-minute public comment period.

Climate risks, project costs

The rationale for the Corps’ study is, in a word, the superstorm.

“The impacts from Hurricane Sandy highlighted the national need for a comprehensive and collaborative evaluation to reduce risk to vulnerable populations within the North Atlantic region,” the Corps writes. “Historic sea level change has exacerbated flooding over the past century, and potential sea level change in the future will only increase the magnitude, frequency, and extent of the problem.”

The Corps is not the only entity pursuing resiliency projects—New York City has a program of its own to improve coastal resiliency and there are similar efforts underway elsewhere in New York state and in New Jersey—at least 160, by the Corps’ count. And improving resiliency doesn’t just involve construction projects: Public education, property buyouts, wetlands restoration, and “retreat” are also in the policy toolbox, the report notes.

When it formalizes its recommendation over the next year, however, the Corps appears likely to recommend building something—or rather, building a system of things, over many years and at a significant cost.

At this stage, the agency has established five possible approaches. (A chart of these is below.)

One plan would use a “combination levee, berm and surge gate/barrier system” from Sandy Hook, N.J., to Breezy Point in Queens, as well as a surge barrier (an example of one type of such barrier can be seen here) just west of the Throgs Neck Bridge, effectively sealing off the city from “storm surge and wave attack” coming from the Atlantic or the Long Island Sound. There would also be barriers in the water and on shore at Pelham Bay. This approach would basically create a harbor-wide barrier system, and is by far the most expensive.

A second option would be to have three “regional” surge barriers—at the southern end of the Arthur Kill between New Jersey and Staten Island, at the Verrazano Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn and up near the Throgs Neck—forming a tighter ring around the harbor. The Pelham Bay work would also happen here, as would a system of surge gates and floodwalls around Jamaica Bay.

Option Three involves mid-sized surge gates at Arthur Kill and Kill Van Kull on Staten Island and smaller gates and other measures at the mouth of Jamaica Bay, Gerritsen Creek, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island Creek as well as the Bronx River and Westchester Creek, Pelham Bay, Flushing Creek, Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.

There’s another approach that would install a large number of small surge gates and other measures on Jamaica Bay and the other New York City tributaries, and add a small gate at the Hackensack River in New Jersey.

Yet another approach would eschew surge gates altogether and instead build a lot of berms and floodwalls on the perimeter of many area waterways.

The agency also examines, pretty briefly, the possibility of taking no action.

Major questions remain

According to the Corps, the different approaches come with different price-tags, ranging from $15 billion for the no-gates plan to $120 billion for the harbor-wide barriers. They also each provide different levels of protection: The harbor-wide barriers would reduce flooding risk by 92 percent, for instance. Attaching a dollar value to those different levels of protection, the Corps’ analysis indicates that the plan for regional sea gates—at Arthur Kills, the Narrows and Throgs Neck—offers the best buy: reducing 89 percent of flooding risk at a construction cost of $47 billion, penciling out to a $124 billion net benefit.

Those numbers, however, are but a rough guide. The Corps notes that its assessment of how effective each plan would be is based on a particular model of how water is going to flow in the storms of the future, with key assumptions around how much the sea will rise and how long into the future the analysis should run; change that model, and the answer about which plan is most cost-effective might also change.

At least two of the plans could protect inner areas of the region at the expense of producing more flooding elsewhere. The Corps says more modeling is necessary to better understand those tradeoffs. A crucial question is what the trigger would be for closing the storm-surge barriers. “Is it the 50 percent flood, the 20 percent flood, 10 percent flood,” the report asks, “or some other event?

There are also questions about how how each plan would affect navigation on the water and what impact the different strategies would have on the ecosystem: the “benthic communities” on the ocean floor, the water column in which fish dwell, wetlands along the coasts and the birds that live on the surface or the shore.

The report is here, and there are supplemental items for review here.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Harbor Resiliency Options
 

Plan Elements Cost Estimate Amount of flood risk reduction Estimated net benefit Map
Harbor Wide Storm-Surge Barriers – a combination levee, berm and surge gate/barrier system connecting to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, across the transect to Breezy Point of Rockaway peninsula
– a surge barrier enclosure along the East River just west of the Throgs Neck
– a small embayment next to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx along western Long Island Sound
$118.8 billion 92 percent $57 billion Alternative 2
Regional Storm-Surge Barriers – surge gate measures at the southern mouth of the Arthur Kill, the Verrazano Narrows, and at the Throgs Neck
– a combination of shoreline-based measures (like floodwalls and levees) along with multiple surge gate structures in the southern Brooklyn to the mouth of Jamaica Bay and then to Rockaway Peninsula
– a small embayment next to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx along western Long Island Sound
$47.1 billion 89 percent $124 billion Alternative 3a
Mid-Sized Storm Surge Barriers – a surge gate system at the southern mouth of the Arthur Kill
– a surge gate system the eastern mouth of the Kill Van Kull between Bayonne, NJ and Staten Island, NY
– a combination of shoreline-based measures (like floodwalls and levees) and multiple surge gate structures in the southern Brooklyn to the mouth of Jamaica Bay and then to Rockaway Peninsula
– a small embayment next to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx along western Long Island Sound
– surge gate structures and adjacent on various tributaries located within the city in predominantly low lying areas with adjacent shoreline-based measures at the southern Bronx shoreline (including the Bronx River and Westchester creek), Flushing Creek (Queens), Newtown Creek (boarder of Brooklyn and Queens) and the Gowanus Canal (Brooklyn).
– shoreline-based measures on the New Jersey shoreline along the Hudson River, the lower West Side of Manhattan, East Harlem in Manhattan along the East and Harlem Rivers, and Long Island City and 5) Astoria in Queens.
– shoreline-based features at various low-lying communities (two in Yonkers, one in Tarrytown, one in Ossining, and two in Stony Point) along the Hudson River.
$43 billion 83 percent 117.8 billion Alternative 3b
Small Storm-Surge Barriers – a combination of shoreline-based measures and multiple surge gate structures in the southern Brooklyn to the mouth of Jamaica Bay and then to Rockaway Peninsula
– a surge gate system at the southern mouth of the Hackensack River, NJ.
– a small embayment next to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx along western Long Island Sound
– surge gate structures and adjacent on various tributaries located within the city in predominantly low lying areas with adjacent shoreline-based measures at the southern Bronx shoreline (including the Bronx River and Westchester creek), Flushing Creek (Queens), Newtown Creek (boarder of Brooklyn and Queens) and the Gowanus Canal (Brooklyn).
– shoreline-based measures on the New Jersey shoreline along the Hudson River, the lower West Side of Manhattan, East Harlem in Manhattan along the East and Harlem Rivers, and Long Island City and 5) Astoria in Queens.
– shoreline-based features at various low-lying communities (two in Yonkers, one in Tarrytown, one in Ossining, and two in Stony Point) along the Hudson River.
$32 billion 78 percent $116.6 billion Alternative 4
Perimeter Defenses – excludes any large in-water structures
– shoreline defenses in the lower Hudson River estuary, the Hackensack Meadowlands, and along the East and Harlem Rivers.
– shoreline-based features at various low-lying communities (two in Yonkers, one in Tarrytown, one in Ossining, and two in Stony Point) along the Hudson River.
$14.8 billion 25 percent $33.8 billion Alternative 5
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Murphy

Picture the Homeless members, led by the organization's civil rights organizer Nikita Price, take a stand for a place to take a leak.

When homelessness is the topic, the framework is normally night. We talk about how many shelter beds are being used. We distinguish between homeless people who have a place to lay their heads down and those who sleep on the street.

It’s an understandable emphasis, because there is something elemental about wanting everyone to be inside and safe when it’s dark and maybe cold. But homeless people are homeless during the day, too. Many work or go to school, but for those who don’t do those things—or who do them irregularly—it’s during the waking hours, when they might truly have no place to go.

In the summer, this means finding a way to beat the heat. In the winter, it requires managing the cold. But all year round, being out of doors during the day creates a basic human problem: Where do you go to the bathroom?

This is a problem that other New Yorkers—like, say, reporters working in the field, or parents toting a child who suddenly starts doing that tell-tale dance—face as well. Sometimes, if you’re willing to spend a couple bucks in a bar or store, you can get access to their john (a hopping child usually bolsters your case). But that path isn’t open to people without bucks to throw around. So, they go where they can, which can be humiliating, and result in a summons, and isn’t ideal for property owners and passers-by, either.

The area around the Metro-North station at 125th Street and Park Avenue and Harlem is an epicenter for this problem because many New Yorkers who are homeless gather there most days. It’s no surprise, then, that the area has been a hotbed of citation activity for public urination over the past few years, according to the group Picture the Homeless.

And while there is a tremendous amount of development activity in the area—there’s a new Shake Shack a couple blocks a way, there are active development sites on three of the corners near the station, and the recent East Harlem rezoning is remaking the broader neighborhood—one peculiar building sits dormant: A comfort station on the south side of the street under the railroad tracks. In other words, there’s a bathroom sitting idle in an area where people are often looking for a place to go.

Picture the Homeless is pushing for the city’s Department of Transportation to reopen that comfort station. Built in the 1890s by the New York Central Railroad, it was mothballed and handed over to the city when the successor Penn Central railroad went bankrupt in 1970, according to The New York Times. Until or unless the comfort station is reopened, PTH wants the city to install an Automated Public Toilet there. Its members say the bathrooms in the Metro North station across the street are off limits to them and that stores in the area don’t welcome those kinds of visits.


Everybody Pees: Advocates Push for a Public Bathroom to be Reopened After 30 Years - SoundCloud
(200 secs long, 6 plays)Play in SoundCloud

A DOT spokesman tells City Limits, “DOT is actively exploring placement of APTs that fit the siting criteria in the vicinity of the comfort station.” It is unclear what the timeline for that is, or whether opening the old comfort station is in the cards.

As you’ll hear in the audio mashup above, (featuring the voices of PTH civil rights organizer Nikita Price, PTG member Charmel Lucas and East Harlem Preservation founder Marina Ortiz) there is both a practical urgency and a symbolic weight to the push for a bathroom under the Metro-North tracks. The pace of change is accelerating in Harlem, with pricier stores popping up on the streetfronts and expensive housing rising to the sky. Amid that “progress,” PTH and its allies want to see something that’s for them, not for wealthier newcomers.

That a bathroom could take on that significance might seem silly. Until you really, really need one.

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Office of the Governor

Rendering of the envisioned AirTrain.

There has been talk about building an “air train” to LaGuardia Airport since before the place was officially known as LaGuardia Airport. Over the years, supporters of an air train have bemoaned the lack of a direct rail link to one of the city’s two, major international airports—especially after JRK Airport established such a link in 2003—but cost and logistics have proven to be high hurdles.

Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set out to overcome those obstacles and build a $1.5 billion rail line from the Willets Point Long-Island Railroad station to the LAG terminals. The proposal is now moving into environmental review, with the Federal Aviation Administration in position to make the final decision about whether and what to build. The state’s hope is for shovels to go into the ground in 2020 and service to begin in 2022.

While the governor and the Port Authority (which controls the regions airports) have argued forcefully that an AirTrain is an absolute necessity, especially with LaGuardia’s passenger traffic expected to rise, the project has many critics. Transportation advocates believe Cuomo’s AirTrain will have a minimal impact on travel times and believe the plan ignores the potential for an expanded bus system to provide more service to LAG. Environmentalists are worried that the train will set back efforts to clean up Flushing Bay and further restrict public access to that waterbody. Airport neighbors—who already have a litany of complaints about noise and air quality around LAG—worry about the impact on their quality of life and home values.

No one seems to regard this as a “done deal,” however. The federal environmental review is expected to evaluate a long list of potential alternatives to the AirTrain—like more buses, ferries, extending the N or W train—as well as alternatives the Port’s preferred path for the AirTrain, which is above and along the Flushing Bay Promenade (one alternate route, disliked by environmentalists, would run the train out over the bay itself).

Last week, City Limits moderated a panel discussion about the train sponsored by Riverkeeper, Guardians of the Bay and the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association featuring Mike Dulong from Riverkeeper, Lynn Kelly from New Yorkers for Parks, Leticia Ochoa from Queens Neighborhoods United, Nick Sifuentes of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Frank Taylor from the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association.

We ran out of time for all the inquiries the audience had, so we asked all the panelists to weigh in on some of the questions attendees submitted about this important project. Here’s what they said:

This project has a 40-year history. Why is there more momentum to build the Air Train now?

James Carriero, counsel to the Ditmars Boulevard Block Association: The publicized reason is that then vice-president Biden came to NYC and pronounced LGA a “third world airport,” which motivated the Governor to demand a train to LGA. The need was based on the fact that LGA is the only airport in the US without train access. The Airtrain became the Governor’s pet project for mass transit access to the airport, especially since the JFK Airtrain was deemed successful. In addition, transportation studies for the re-development of the airport predicted substantial increased use of the airport and the delay in traveling from Manhattan. Traffic studies indicate that the current more than one-hour ride at peak times by car from midtown will only get worse. We, of course, suspect that the LGA Airtrain is tied to the future development of Willets Point and are concerned that this is a first step in the expansion of the airport to the surrounding neighborhoods. A major part of the Airtrain project that is buried in the RFP is the construction of employee parking lots, a consolidated rental car facility and a hotel. There is no room for these facilities at the Willets Point train station. PANYNJ has kept their location a secret.

What are the most effective actions the public can take to have the greatest impact?

Carriero: DBBA is not a political organization but becomes involved in issues that affect its members and the community. It seems to us that the public should voice its opposition to the governmental agencies charged with approving the project (e.g., the FAA conducting the EIS, the PACB approving financing), at other airport oversight groups (Aviation Roundtable), at press conferences, at the community organization level, garnering community board support for our position, at PANYNJ Board meetings and should enlist elected officials and other officials who have a stake (e.g., the State Comptroller), publicizing opposition in the press and other media, and lastly, public protests. Unfortunately, the NYS Assemblymember (Jeffrion Aubrey) and the NYC Councilperson (Francisco Moya) both support the Airtrain and are believed to be politically aligned with the Governor. Aubrey introduced the bill which provided the authority to condemn parkland for the proposed routes.

Lynn Kelly, New Yorkers for Parks: The most effective actions that the public can take to have the greatest impact is to show up early and often in the public process. The public can familiarize themselves with the process by reading the Citizen’s Guide to the National Environmental Policy Act (available here in English and in Spanish) to identify where they can get involved. The community should identify what it is they need and want, and develop a set of consistent talking points and asks that they can raise repeatedly to ensure that their message is clear and unmistakable by decision makers.

Mike Dulong, senior attorney, Riverkeeper: The public should contact their federal, state and local elected representatives to ask for their positions on the AirTrain and the reasoning behind those positions. The public should also register their concerns about the project with the representatives. Everyone should also engage in the environmental review process to ensure the Federal Aviation Administration understands all of the potential impacts of approving an AirTrain, and that it considers all feasible alternatives.

Routing the train along Grand Central Parkway vs Promenade: Which impacts the community more?

Carriero: We believe the parkway median impacts the community more because it is closer to our homes along Ditmars Boulevard and would require a guideway elevated to a height of some 70 feet to pass over walkways from the neighborhood to promenade and Flushing Bay. At this height, it would be an eyesore, detract from views of the Bay and, despite being elevated would create a barrier between the community and the Bay. Years ago when the City Planning Commission rezoned the area around the traffic circle for construction of the Marriott Hotel, it imposed a restrictive covenant against building on the Hotel’s parking lot in order to preserve open vistas. For homes adjacent to the Parkway, it would be like having a train in your bedroom.

Dulong: Certainly both routes will have a greater impact on East Elmhurst than no action, bus rapid transit, ferry service, or other feasible options. Yet this question is precisely why it is so important that the environmental review be done right so we can understand the full impacts each.

Why not extend the N/W trains to LGA?

Carriero: Great question! This was the original proposal in the 1990’s that was defeated by community opposition in Astoria backed by Peter Vallone. But extending the N/W trains will merely shift the burden to another community. The problems with the Airtrain are not NIMBY problems. The AirTrain makes no sense from transportation, financial and engineering (it will be outdated by the time construction is finished) points of view, and it is intended to benefit only travelers to/from Manhattan (the stated purpose of the project is to provide a “30-minute one-seat ride” from midtown). If the new LGA is to move out of “third world” status and is to be a gateway to NYC, why force travelers onto an overcrowded and poorly maintained subway line or an LIRR train that runs infrequently. Consider also that a large portion of Manhattan residents have to take the subway to access the LIRR, adding another seat and even more time.

Dulong: This is a great question – and one that will have to be evaluated in the environmental review process. Frankly, we should all be asking, what is in the best interest for New Yorkers? And how can it have the lightest impact on local communities and our environment?

We should stop the AirTrain, But, if it can’t be stopped, what can we get?

Carriero: Would like to think about this, but anything that benefits the community and improves the quality of life in East Elmhurst. Some things that come to mind immediately and not necessarily in priority are requisite percentage of employment at the airport from the local community, improvements to schools, neighborhood beautification and home improvement grants/loans, development of, and better access to, the waterfront, cleaning the Bay, better enforcement of traffic laws, etc., etc.

Dulong: Regardless of what alternative is chosen, the public should seek mitigation of all unavoidable environmental impacts as well as restitution for any community resources that were harmed, such as parkland.

Realistically, how likely is it that the Port Authority would consider an alternative not presented by the Port Authority?

Carriero: It is a very steep climb, but after Amazon, we have to have faith. It is not very likely since it has already spent millions getting to this point.

Dulong: The decision maker in this case is actually the Federal Aviation Administration. If a feasible alternative exists, the FAA is bound by law to consider it. If there truly is a better alternative, then it is up to us New Yorkers and our elected representatives to demand the best result for the region with the least impact on our communities.

Wouldn’t bus rapid transit (one of the alternatives) also have some environmental impact?

Carriero: The only alternative that would not seem to have any environmental impact is “no build.” It is a question of lesser impact. Even Letitia James recognized that bus service is a better alternative.

Dulong: Environmental impacts of all alternatives should be evaluated before any is chosen. Each alternative could have environmental impacts. What’s important is determining which alternative’s benefits most outweigh its impacts so it is truly the best option for all New Yorkers.

When do individuals have a chance to start receiving payments for the damages to their homes?

Carriero: Whenever they reach a deal with PANYNJ, but it is most advisable to wait until the project is complete to assess the full extent of damage, unless emergency repairs are needed.

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In these days of high political drama, with talk of impeachment and a declaration of emergency at the national level as local and state politicians tangle over Amazon, legal redress for victims of sexual abuse and reproductive rights, property tax reform is not the kind of topic that gets hearts a-thumping.

Well, right: Property tax reform is never the kind of topic that gets hearts a-thumping. That’s probably one reason why a system that has been acknowledged as deeply flawed for a quarter century has stayed that way.

Another reason, as a new report from the Regional Plan Association (RPA) points out, is that it’s hard to fix the property-tax system in a way that doesn’t create winners and losers—those who end up paying less, and those who end up paying more—among taxpayers. The current system suffers from several different inequities: between apartment buildings and houses, and between houses in different neighborhoods. Resetting that balance will be a daunting task.

Urgency seems to be building for some kind of reform, however. To that end, RPA has suggested four ways to address existing inequalities in the city’s property-tax system and use the system’s leverage to improve the housing market.

The main reason property-tax inequality is so gaping is that there are caps in place for Class 1 homeowners (three-family houses or smaller) that prevent tax bills from going up too fast. Over time, those caps mean folks in hip neighborhoods see their property values soar but their tax bills only creep up slowly, leading to a lower effective tax rate than in other areas. Getting rid of the caps is tempting but that would hurt current, low-income owners. So, RPA suggests re-assessing home values whenever they change hands and allowing only the present owner to enjoy the protection of year-to-year caps.

Class 2 rental properties are likely to see tax bills fall under any property-tax reform. But should those savings go just to landlords, or also to tenants whose rents reflect those tax bills? RPA proposes a broad, refundable renters’ credit—one that would also help the many people who rent in Class 1 properties (an amazing 23 percent of renters).

RPA treads cautiously when it comes to the long-discussed possibility of taxing vacant land to encourage development. Merely taxing purely vacant land “would not be significantly impactful from either a development or revenue generation perspective, mostly because New York is a heavily built out city with relatively little privately-owned developable vacant land,” the report found. So the city would have to think about new ways of taxing “underbuilt” land as well. But even considering such a step would demand a better accounting of just how much land is underbuilt in the city.

Finally, the Association calls for a surcharge on housing subject to “seasonal, recreational and occasional” use, meaning “pieds-à-terre, summer bungalows, and increasingly short-term rentals on platforms such as Air BnB.” The surcharge would result in some combination of additional government revenue—always handy—and apartments being put on the market to be rented as residences. If only 42 percent of the 75,000 apartments now used seasonally or for recreation were put on the market, RPA says, it would push the city’s vacancy rate above the 5 percent threshold for its housing emergency.

Read the report here.

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John Penny

Voters who go to the polls next Tuesday for the special election for public advocate could be looking for a strong counterpoint to Mayor de Blasio or a crusader against corruption; a lawyer for the people or a civics-educator-in-chief; an ombudsperson or a policymaker-without-portfolio. The post can be any or all of those things, and the 16 people running for it have articulated desires to take on different combinations of those roles.

That degree of individualization is possible because the City Charter is pretty broad in describing the duties and obligations of the public advocate’s job, which is vacant now—or rather, filled on an interim basis by Council Speaker Corey Johnson—after Leticia James left to become state attorney general on New Year’s Day.

That Charter does get specific on at least one point, however: The public advocate is to investigate “the effectiveness of the public information and service complaint programs of city agencies” and the “responsiveness of city agencies to individual and group requests for data or information regarding the agencies’ structure, activities and operations.”

That could prove an important and timely task, because the state’s Freedom of Information Law (or FOIL) and the city’s compliance with it have become issues of interest.

Bill de Blasio came into office promising a healthier FOIL system, and did take some steps to improve the release of public information. But his administration’s interpretation of how the law applies to police disciplinary records has been controversial, as was his attempt to block the release of emails between City Hall and consultants whom the mayor dubbed “agents of the city.” Recently, City Hall emails that should have been released under an earlier FOIL request only emerged later during a criminal trial, raising questions about how scrupulous the administration has been about saving and producing documents that belong to the governed. Delays due to a lack of resources remain a practical concern.

Given the recent headlines about FOIL, City Limits asked the candidates for public advocate what they thought about the system and whether they would seek to change it.

Here are the responses we’ve received:

1. How do you assess the city’s compliance with FOIL? What (if anything) works? What (if anything) doesn’t?

Dawn Smalls: In general, most city officials and agencies take way too long to respond to FOIL requests, and at times try to evade compliance with FOIL altogether. From the NYPD trying to hide behind the to Glomar response to Bill de Blasio’s 3-year-long battle with NY1 to release communication he had with outside consultants, it takes way to long for information to reach the public once an information request has been filed. I think the Open FOIL online system that New York has in place could be effective, but there needs to be oversight of city agencies to make sure the system is being used properly.

David Eisenbach: Mayor de Blasio has failed to bring transparency to NYC government. He has refused to fulfill FOIA and FOIL requests for a reason – He wants to shield his pay-to-play corruption schemes and big real estate giveaways from the public. Every successful FOIL/FOIA request that reveals emails to the public has given us a glimpse into how corrupt and secretive he has been in his conduct as mayor.

Michael Blake: Thanks to Local Law 11, New York City has a mandate to make public data available on a single web portal, among others. NYC is publishing over 2,000 data sets. But we still have a significant transparency and accountability problem when NYCHA residents are lied to about lead paint in their apartments and New York City Police Officers disciplinary histories are not available to the public they serve. We have a serious problem when deals like Amazon are negotiated in the shadows, along with our ability to track whether it actually produces the city and community benefits it claims it will produce.

Rafael Espinal: FOIL is an essential part of transparent government but unfortunately I would rate the city’s compliance as dismal. When Mayor de Blasio was Public Advocate he criticized Mayor Bloomberg’s approach to FOIL, but he hasn’t done much better himself. The OpenRecords portal is a start, but response time is still an issue.

Jared Rich: The City’s compliance with FOIL requests, although thorough, takes entirely too long. I have an attorney friend who put in a request to simply obtain records relating to work done on a particular sidewalk. He put in the request on September 27th, 2018, and received an email stating he would receive a response on June 25th, 2019. The fact that it takes almost a full year to search computer records and respond to such a simple demand is ludicrous. Either the City is attempting to delay matters in responding, or the FOIL unit is simply underfunded and understaffed. This once again goes into my entire theory that our government is full of waste. I wonder how many different departments a request has to go through before it is fulfilled. I wonder how, mere days after receiving the request, they knew that it would take 9 months to respond to a request. I wonder what we can do better. I wonder what we MUST do better. The computerization of the process is a positive step, but once you press submit, bureaucratic red tape still delays the access to information that the public is entitled to.

Ydanis Rodriguez: There’s always room for improvement. NYC has one of the most user-friendly and transparent FOILs in the nation but city agencies in many instances have failed to comply with the letter and spirit of the law. For example, DOE takes about 100 days to respond to public records requests.

Nomiki Konst: Open Records has made the filing of FOIL requests more broadly accessible. But city compliance still has significant problems and shortcomings. Many agencies do not have enough staff and resources dedicated to FOIL requests and do not take FOIL requests seriously enough. Certain agencies, like DOE, have been egregiously unresponsive. We also have a problem with a lack of transparency in terms of compliance with requests, exemptions, and release of information, leaving the system open to abuse, delay, and obstruction.

Melissa Mark-Viverito: FOIL is an extremely valuable tool to hold our city agencies accountable. We need to continue to improve Open Data and resolve responses to requests more quickly, especially in areas that are in crisis, such as NYCHA and the MTA.

2. Is any reform necessary to make the system work better?

Melissa Mark-Viverito: We need more staff dedicated to answering FOIL requests in each department, because of backlogs and other administrative issues. I would also establish new units within the office of Public Advocate, including an Office of Investigations and Reporting, to ensure FOIL requests are answered in a timely manner.

Rafael Espinal: FOIL reform would help strengthen democracy in our city. The process should be made simpler and each agency should dedicate a number of staff according to how many FOIL requests that agency gets. The office of the Public Advocate should be in charge of monitoring and oversight for FOIL.

Ydanis Rodriguez: One of the main complaints we hear about FOIL procedure in NYC agencies is the arbitrary time to push back the response time. I believe we must standardize not only laws but also operating procedures to comply with FOIL requests. Many of the laws passed by us in the City Council are on target but city agencies have failed to implement them.

Dawn Smalls: Two reforms that I think could be made are 1) working with advocates to make sure city agencies are using the Open FOIL online system and identifying gaps either by agency or city-wide to help make the system more efficient and 2) increasing the staff dedicated to processing FOIL requests so the public gets answers and information in a timely manner. Right now, staffing FOIL requests is not a priority for many agencies who have only a handful of staff dedicated to handling requests as the population, and therefore demand for information grows.

Nomiki Konst: We need more uniform guidance across all agencies for compliance, allocating resources, and designating authority for FOIL requests. We need to fine agencies for non-compliance. We need to impose penalties on public officials who are found to abuse and obstruct compliance. And we need a more independent, accessible, and transparent appeals process.

Jared Rich: Obviously there must be reform, as the system is simply not working as it is currently set up. We, as a people, have the right to transparency in our system. The fact that answers can be delayed by almost a year seems to be an effort to diffuse anger regarding the issues being requested. It seems to me that a more valid system would be to have every request issued to an independent body of individuals with a system in place to have all of the answers requested in one venue. We can’t continue playing the scavenger hunt and pass the buck game that currently occurs every time a request is made.

3. What role would the public advocate play in monitoring, operating or reforming the system if you are elected?

Ydanis Rodriguez: I will use the powerful pulpit of the office Public Advocate to make city government more transparent and in full compliance with its own laws and regulations. If necessary, I’ll use any legal recourse to assist those seeking compliance.

Michael Blake:I will focus on publicly available information that will ensure transparency and accountability for jobs and justice. I am also concerned about data and protecting the privacy of immigrants and communities of color. FOIL compliance is a significant issue and I will be a staunch advocate for agencies responsiveness to FOIL and the public listing of data and information to reduce the necessity of requesting the information.

Nomiki Konst: The Public Advocate must press for all of these reforms while continually tracking and publicizing the city’s FOIL compliance failures and abuses.

Melissa Mark-Viverito: As I previously mentioned, I want to create Office of Investigations and Reporting. This office will be designed to root out corruption, mismanagement, and other systemic problems affecting the lives of New Yorkers by making quicker access to information a priority. FOIL requests should be taken seriously, and I believe the Public Advocate’s office is the perfect venue for constituents and journalists to get answers about their government.

David Eisenbach: As Public Advocate I will bring transparency to city agencies by becoming the Whistleblower-In-Chief who welcomes complaints from government officials about waste, fraud and corruption and I will shield the whistleblowers and expose the crimes.

Rafael Espinal: Well, rather than the city monitor the OpenRecords portal the Public Advocate should. The Public Advocate should require a monthly report from each agency detailing requests, types of request, dates on which requests were made, and real time response times. The assessment of the records should be made public by the Advocate’s office on a quarterly basis.

Jared Rich: As with all of the major issues presented in this campaign, and as with all issues that the people of New York City are and should be concerned with, there is an enormous amount of waste in our system. We must look into overhauling the entire FOIL unit to make them a more cohesive and more efficient system. One of the main powers of the Public Advocate is to use the bully pulpit to shine a light on areas that need to be exposed, and I intend to cast that light on the FOIL process in an effort to increase transparency in Government.

Dawn Smalls: As Public Advocate, I would specifically push for the MTA to develop an online portal for FOI requests and, as referenced above, I’d partner with advocates to across city agencies to evaluate whether Open FOIL is truly working for public use. Additionally, as an experienced litigator, I will not hesitate to sue government agencies in order to get information out to the public. In fact, I have already stated that in my first 30 days in office I will sue NYCHA for information so that we can have a transparent understanding of the state of repair requests and why they are being not being resolved on a timely basis.

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Adi Talwar

The East River Promenade on a mid February weekend afternoon. Community members and the de Blasio administration are wrestling over how to shore up coastal defenses in the area.

Almost seven years have passed since Hurricane Sandy left its mark in the city. Neighborhoods like the East Village and Lower East Side were severely impacted by flooded streets and loss of electric power. Beyond the loss of life and the price of rebuilding, the storm also delivered a warning about what the city can expect as sea levels rise.

A study conducted by several American institutions suggested rising sea levels makes the city vulnerable to floods that will happen every five years after the year 2030.

Flooding can be damaging to the city’s infrastructure and economy, which is why the city and federal resources are currently being hauled together to protect the city through two flood protection initiatives – the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New York and New Jersey Harbor Tributaries Study.

As these initiatives start to come to fruition, skepticism continues to surround the projects over funding and their capability to protect New York City’s vulnerable coastal communities.

The East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR)

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition awarded the city $335 million to fund the first phase of a flood protection initiative in Lower Manhattan, called the Big U, which involves rebuilding the East River Park. The city provided an additional $425 million to the project, bringing the cost of total funding to $760 million.

The project targets the area along East 25th street down to Montgomery Street and originally included berms, levees and a floodwall adjacent to the FDR Drive. But in a twist of events, the City announced in September an overhaul of the project with drastic changes.

The new design covers the area up to East 13th street (the project will remain unchanged up to East 25th street) and elevate the park by eight to ten feet. The redesign also moves the floodwall underground from its original placement. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration claimed these adjustments will implement flood protection a year early, reduce construction time by six months and be less disruptive for nearby residents as it moves construction closer to the waterfront. These changes increased the cost to a hefty $1.45 billion and prompts the closure of the park for three and a half years.

Feeling deceived by the sudden modifications, residents like Dianne Lake expressed their frustration with the city’s lack of communication at a City Council committee hearing last month. “We’ve been presented with a hastily assembled proposal that was done more or less in the dead of night without any warning,” said Lake.

The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Design and Construction (DDC) were under scrutiny at the committee hearing, where it was pointed out that additional funding had yet to be allocated. But at a Community Board 3 meeting last week, an official from DDC announced the City will provide the rest of capital funding. No details were provided when asked for the origins of the money.

Construction on the project could begin in spring 2020 if it is certified by the city’s uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) this year and receives approval from council member Carlina Rivera, whose district includes East Village and Lower East Side.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Weighing In

Aside from the ESCR project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also planning to implement additional flood protection in the New York harbor. In 2017, it released five proposals for storm-surge protection to be analyzed in its New York and New Jersey Harbor Tributaries Study (NYNJHATS).

The proposals ranged from shoreline protections to large storm-surge barriers meant to prevent flooding during a storm. These barriers would be placed between Breezy Point, Queens and Sandy Hook, New Jersey and another between the Bronx and Queens.

Robert Freudenberg, vice president of Regional Plan Association’s energy and environmental program, has seen other cities pursue barriers for flood protection (Boston has contemplated a surge barrier of their own but a feasibility study advised against it). But he said questions remain unanswered on how the costs of building a barrier align with the benefits.

“I think that alternative has always been interesting because it can protect such a large area,” said Freudenberg, “but I think we have always called for there to be more studies on that option because we need to know what potential impacts are for the benefit it provides.”

But the plan for a storm-surge barrier came as a surprise for John Lipscomb, vice president for advocacy at Riverkeeper. “Every way you look at this it is a bone-headed idea,” said Lipscomb. For Riverkeeper, such barriers are a short-term solution for storm-surge, but it ignores the greater risk of sea level rise. Spending billions of dollars on a project like this is “crazy for society,” said Lipscomb.

Skepticism over such barriers was brought up in a 2013 study by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, calling it a “silver bullet” solution. In theory, the barriers can block storm surges but it would “pose significant risks to the city that far outweigh its theoretical benefits.” The study explains barriers would be left open under normal weather conditions to allow navigation but would “end up doing nothing” to resolve the problem of rising sea levels.

The Army Corps will release an interim report on the NYNJHATS tomorrow and public meetings will be held in March and April. A final report will be due in spring 2021 and the following year the Army Corps chief will recommend the chosen proposal to Congress, who will authorize funding for construction.

These two are the most high-profile resiliency projects in our area, but other efforts are underway, like the Red Hook Integrated Flood Protection System and the Hunts Point Peninsula Resiliency and Energy Pilot Project. You can keep track of other projects in this interactive map provided by the city.  

In the meantime, nature will not wait as the city considers the changes to the ESCR project and the Army Corps deliberates proper harbor protection. At the recent CB3 meeting, one attendee singled out the absence of flood protection during ESCR project’s construction. “I have heard nothing about what is going to happen during construction if a storm like Sandy or worse comes along,” she asked. “How will we be protected?”

An official from DDC mentioned the city currently has interim flood protection measures. The city’s office of Emergency Management handles the Interim Flood Protection Measures program in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency and other city agencies to protect neighborhoods across the city. “I know that is in talks but I don’t want to speak to that,” said the official. “That is why we want to accelerate the construction period.”

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